UT Race Preferences and Perverse Outcomes

Texas is a state that is about 40 percent Hispanic and 12 percent black — why can’t the University of Texas attract the number of blacks and Hispanics it wants without rigging the admissions process? (Or even with rigging the admission process, for that matter?)

The biggest problem, it seems likely, is persistent educational achievement differences. Texas has a better record for educating black and Hispanic students than do most states, but those students still lag behind their white counterparts. The black and Hispanic dropout rates have been improving, but barely 80 percent of black students graduate from high school in Texas. (Some estimates are even lower.) I do not have ready data on the gap in SAT scores between black and white students in Texas, but nationwide the gap has been running more than 200 points in recent years — and widening. In Dallas County, only 4 percent of black and Hispanic students graduate from high school with college-ready test scores.

During my time at UT, which was during the Hopwood debate, it was estimated that if UT law had admitted every black law-school student in Texas whose LSAT and GPA qualifications exceeded those of the lowest-scoring white student at UT law, the school still wouldn’t be 12 percent black. The crucial problem — the emergency — isn’t admissions standards at flagship universities and elite law schools, but our country’s failed K-12 system.

But there is another problem facing the University of Texas, not to mention the lesser universities of Texas: Other, more prestigious universities have aggressive race-preference programs, too. Students automatically admitted to UT Austin last year were in the top 8 percent of their classes with average SAT scores just over 1800. Students not automatically admitted had SAT scores averaging just over 1900, as did out-of-state students. The average SAT score in Texas is below 1500. Not to put too fine a point on it: If you are black, in the top 8 percent of your class, and clearing 1900 on the SAT, you have a fighting chance at attending a much better school than the University of Texas. There are students at Harvard with 1900 SATs. There are going to be other important factors, of course — essays, extracurriculars, etc. — but the fact is that non-white students who meet UT’s auto-admit standards are going to be in many cases pretty good candidates for admission at more prestigious universities. Other than the presence of Shiner Bock, what exactly is the argument for going to UT when you could go to Stanford, Cal-Tech, or NYU?

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